St Helen’s Well, Pocklington: The latest information

by Ian Taylor

Eleven months after receiving my original letter of application for the Scheduling of the St Helen’s Well, Chapel Hill, Pocklington, the Historic Buildings and Monuments Commission finally responded. In April last Dr Bewley arrived from English Heritage and together we visited the Well. Although Dr Bewley could see immediately the threat to the site from encroaching housing development he was unable to recommend it for Scheduling. His inability lay in the absence of archaeological/architectural remains ‘apparent at the site in its present condition (i.e. ‘no old stone Well House or Inscription). All that can be seen at present is the remains of a brick enclosure which once surrounded the Well, but which was demolished by the site’s owners (a building firm from Hull with plans to cover Chapel Hill with semi-detached houses) and which now lies in a jumble of grass and encroaching sycamores. This was not enough to have the site Scheduled – nor was the additional evidence of old Ordnance Survey maps, whereon the well is named (it is not represented on current OS maps).

One can sympathise with Dr Bewley’s position – his regulations are laid down and are difficult to contravene – but regulations do not make an active force for change and English Heritage may, in many cases, be anything but in practice such an active force.

I have written a booklet on the subject of local folklore and also a book on Earth Mysteries research in the area (The All Saints’ Ley Hunt) both of which describe the plight of St Helen’s Well, and both of which are available to local people. I have written to local archaeologists with a view to excavation at the well (with the owners’ permission – which they may, of course, refuse to grant) in order to attempt to locate any Schedulable stonework. I have asked prominent local people to take the matter up in the town and publicised the issue in the local press. If all this effort fails then there is no more I can do to save the well from legalised destruction.

The plight of St Helen’s Well may indeed become a cautionary tale. The land whereon the well lies was sold around 1970 to a local building firm who (somehow) obtained planning permission to construct a housing estate on Chapel Hill. Building was begun, but after a short time the firm went bankrupt! About half the hillside had by this time become an ugly rash of flat-roofed semis and tarmac. The remaining area of Chapel Hill was then sold to the Hull firm who now wish to develop it. As far as I am aware no active protest was mounted in Pocklington to attempt to prevent this most attractive area (Chapel Hill is a beautiful natural wild wooded hillside and landmark) from vanishing under clapped together modern dwellings. (I have only been here since 1983, so I’m not exactly certain what was or was not said in 1970). From what I can gather, however, the sale of the hillside for building purposes went ahead relatively unopposed. Such apathy in a smallish community would appear hard to credit, and may indeed, in time, receive its just karmic deserts but, in spite of local indifference, I felt that the Sacred Shrine of St Helen’s Well (it was considered as such as late as 1815 – documentary evidence confirms this) and the delightful hillside itself should not become the victims of local indifference and shallow self-interest.

Perhaps ‘something’ may yet occur here to surprise us all…. But, for my part, I am keenly aware that there are other sites elsewhere to save – with, hopefully, the presence of local concern more to the fore.


Text  © Ian Taylor (1986)

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